Needled India hope to shift spotlight on medals at humdrum CWG
Gold Coast: Spooked by a needle controversy but in high spirits nonetheless, the jumbo Indian contingent would be aiming to make it all good with strong medal-winning performances when the acutely-low-on-buzz Commonwealth Games start on Wednesday with an opening ceremony here.
It's just a day to go before the Games officially get started but Gold Coast hardly looked like a city gearing up for a sporting festival.
There are signboards all across welcoming 71 Commonwealth countries for the 21st CWG but what's missing is the festive spirit that usually comes with such a once-in-four-years extravaganzas.
The organisers, including Queensland Minister for CWG Kate Johns, were busy making last-minute appeals to the city -- aptly called the 'surfers' paradise' for its breathtakingly beautiful coastline -- to buy the several thousand tickets that are still unsold across different sports.
"Go out and buy tickets, it's a one in a lifetime experience. Don't miss this opportunity," said Games organising committee CEO Mark Peters.
For the Indians though, the mood-killer has been the needle controversy even though the Commonwealth Games Federation has not named the country.
The embarrassment of doping has been avoided as tests conducted after the discovery of syringes have turned out negative but the very violation of the 'No Needle Policy' is enough embarrassment.
However, if the mood at the flag hoisting ceremony was anything to go by, the Indian contingent is unlikely to let that come in the way of a strong showing at the Games, where have a decent record to boast of.
"What has happened is just stupidity at worst and there is nothing sinister about it. Let's hope it doesn't get magnified beyond the stupidity that it was," said a senior official of the Indian contingent.
At the previous edition in Glasgow the Indian medal tally stood at 64 – 15 gold, 30 silver and 19 bronze and the 218-strong contingent would be expected to either better it or ensure that the final count hovers close to the previous haul.
The major burden of expectations would once again be on shooters, boxers, shuttlers and wrestlers -- all of whom have been in good form going into the Games. The two hockey teams would also be expected to at least be on the podium if not on top.
The likes of P V Sindhu, Jitu Rai, Saina Nehwal, M C Mary Kom, Sushil Kumar and Vinesh Phogat are being considered medal certainties.
The dark horses would include the gymnasts and the table tennis players, who might just throw up a few surprises to finish among the medals.
The Games will have its fair share of international stars in the likes of Jamaican sprinter Yohann Blake, world champion hurdler Sally Pearson, British diver Tom Daley and India's very own Mary Kom and South Africa's Caster Semenya among others.
But it remains to be seen whether Gold Coast is in a mood to be dazzled by them.
"You want all the tickets to be sold out but I am confident that 95 per cent of the tickets will be sold by the time the Games begin. Overall 1.2 million tickets have been sold across all sports and the two ceremonies," said Peters.
The competitions will get underway from April 5 after a strictly-under-wraps opening ceremony tomorrow evening. India can hope for their first medal on the first day of competitions.